When I co-owned a Sylvan Learning Center in Bountiful, Utah, I noticed that students who came to us for math tutoring struggled to retain their times tables. We’d drill the facts and they’d remember the answers for their tutoring hour. But when they came back the next week, they looked like a deer in headlights when we asked for the answers. We also observed that students had different learning styles.
Some learned best by reading new material or by seeing visual images. Others absorbed lessons by listening. And still others retained information when they engaged through experiential learning—activity or movement.
We were at a loss for how to move ahead with their math lessons. Without basic math facts committed to memory, kids couldn’t do much in the way of fractions, ratios, division, or algebra. There had to be a better way to teach the times tables.
Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners
After researching creative teaching ideas, we developed our now-famous, award-winning picture and story method for teaching math facts, Times Tables the Fun Way. By connecting visual images, stories, and songs to mundane number facts, we found an effective way to leverage the power of storytelling for three primary learning styles—Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (movement and touch), often referred to as VAK.
To ensure that all learners could benefit from our picture and story method for memorizing math facts, we developed songs and recorded books to accompany each story for our auditory learners, motion graphics and videos for our visual learners, and games and activities, clue cards, and digital play pieces to recreate the story for kinesthetic learners.
The Power of Storytelling
The Times Tables the Fun Way picture-story method is designed to aid memorization and retention of fundamental math facts. Using a picture and story to illustrate the numbers, students have a visual clue to recall the math fact, which makes learning times tables easy and fun.
The first story we invented was for 8×8—a story of two 8-snowmen, who get bored standing still in the yard. When no one is looking, they decide to go camping. When they arrive at the campsite, they get very cold, because it is winter, of course, so they decide to build a fire. Just then, they see a sign that says the sticks are for the fire.
“Sticks are for” sounds like ’64.’
After creating this first story, we tested it out with our students. Holy smokes! When they returned the following week, they remembered that 8×8 was about snowmen going camping, who wanted to build a fire. When I asked the kids what 8×8 equals, they shouted: “Sticks are for the fire. 64!”
The kids loved feeling the success of finally being able to remember their times tables. Learning became fun, and we saw immediate results with our students!
We continued creating and testing out new pictures and stories for all of the math facts, from 0 to 9. In 1992, we published Times Tables the Fun Way, followed by Addition the Fun Way. Both remain popular with teachers and students and are sold worldwide.
We also expanded the power of picture and story learning and developed a computer-animated version of Times Tables the Fun Way called Online Times Alive—perfect for classroom use. It keeps track of student progress and teaches all the 0s-9s with animated movies, songs, games, and quizzes.
Why Stories Stick
In a Harvard Business Review article by Vanessa Boris, she makes the case for why stories stick: “Storytelling is so effective because it works for all types of learners.” Citing Paul Smith from his article, “Leader as Storyteller: 10 Reasons It Makes a Better Business Connection”:
In any group, roughly 40 percent will be predominantly visual learners who learn best from videos, diagrams, or illustrations. Another 40 percent will be auditory, learning best through lectures and discussions. The remaining 20 percent are kinesthetic learners, who learn best by doing, experiencing, or feeling. Storytelling has aspects that work for all three types. Visual learners appreciate the mental pictures storytelling evokes. Auditory learners focus on the words and the storyteller’s voice. Kinesthetic learners remember the emotional connections and feelings from the story.
Boris adds, “Storytelling also helps with learning because stories are easy to remember. Organizational psychologist Peg Neuhauser found that learning which stems from a well-told story is remembered more accurately, and for far longer than learning derived from facts and figures. Similarly, psychologist Jerome Bruner’s research suggests that facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they’re part of a story.”
Utah Study: Stories Increase Memory Retention of Math Facts
To validate the power of storytelling in helping kids learn their times tables, we commissioned a University of Utah study involving 756 students, 18 schools, and 36 teachers. Each school was assigned an experimental third-grade class in which students learned the multiplication facts with the aid of the pictures and stories presented in this book. At the same time, the control class learned the facts conventionally with repetition and timed tests.
The pre-test scores of both groups were not significantly different, however, the post-test scores were up to 24 percent higher in the Times Tables the Fun Way picture and story group. Also noteworthy was the degree of change or improvement from pre-test to post-test scores. Results showed up to 59 percent more improvement with the Times Tables the Fun Way program.
This widely scoped Utah study involved 11 counties, parochial and public schools, as well as resource and advanced learning programs. According to Brian Campbell, the lead researcher of the Utah study, “The positive effect was consistent across schools. In other words, the Times Tables the Fun Way group showed superior performance over conventional methods, regardless of which school a student attended.”
The Times Tables the Fun Way method has been used successfully in many different settings. These range from Accelerated Learning Programs for gifted children to Resource Programs for students requiring special education. It has proven to be especially effective for kids with dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and other learning differences.
All students are able to learn times tables with this method, but we see the greatest improvement over conventional methods among the students that struggle with the repetitive drill and practice of conventional methods. These students require a different learning strategy.
Often, these are the students that excel in language skills or have artistic talents. Memorizing numbers is not only difficult but sometimes impossible. No amount of drill and practice will achieve the desired results
Students in the higher grades, including adults, that have not mastered times tables are finally able to succeed and memorize the facts with the aid of the visualization and association techniques provided by the picture-story method. Visual learners and students with high verbal aptitudes can finally learn times tables applying these skills to mathematical concepts.
Our goal is to provide fun and engaging lessons so teaching is fun and kids love learning. We want to provide all students a way to succeed in math so they can develop confidence and feel more capable and smarter overall.
Today, City Creek Press offers 20 original products that serve one purpose—to make learning a fun and memorable experience for children.